Japan, China spar over import ban after Fukushima water release

by Sep 7, 2023Featured Article, News

Japan and China on Wednesday traded barbs over Beijing’s ban on all of Japanese seafood imports following the release of treated radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant into the sea, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida criticizing the neighboring country’s negative reaction to the discharge as “conspicuous.”

Tokyo will continue to demand Beijing take “action based on scientific grounds,” while it will keep providing appropriate information on the discharge that began on Aug. 24, Kishida said during the ASEAN Plus Three summit involving Japan, China and South Korea, held in Jakarta.

Chinese Premier Li Qiang called on Japan to handle the matter responsibly and fully consult with its neighbors and related stakeholders, saying the disposal of “nuclear-contaminated water” concerns the global marine ecological environment and people’s health, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

The summit marked the first multilateral gathering attended by both Japanese and Chinese leaders since Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings Inc. started discharging the water into the Pacific Ocean, following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report in July that said the plan complies with global safety standards.

Kishida said during their talks that Japan has secured the global community’s understanding regarding the safety of the water release and vowed to continue his country’s explanation “with high transparency,” according to the Japanese government.

The water discharge has been accepted by nations such as the United States and Australia, as well as the European Union.

China has strongly opposed Japan’s handling of the wastewater, and implemented a blanket ban on Japanese seafood imports in protest shortly after the discharge started. Tokyo has since urged Beijing to scrap it.

China’s outright ban on Japanese seafood and the emergence of anti-Japan sentiment among its public came at a time when expectations had been growing for a thaw in bilateral relations.

The two nations are at odds over the sovereignty of uninhabited islets controlled by Japan and claimed by China, among other contentious issues.

Ahead of the ASEAN Plus Three meeting, Kishida held a brief conversation with Li, during which he pressed China to lift its ban on Japanese seafood imports, the Japanese Foreign Ministry said.

It was their first meeting as leaders, with Li assuming office in March.

Kishida said the two countries need to build “constructive and stable” relations, while explaining Japan’s position on the water discharge, according to the ministry.

The summit was also attended by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and leaders from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The South Korean government, which has been working to improve bilateral ties with Japan, has said it respects the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s findings that pointed to “negligible” impact on people and the environment, although opposition parties and the public have raised concerns about the move.

So far, none of the ASEAN member states has openly opposed the water discharge. ASEAN comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

According to the ministry officials, only Kishida and Li made remarks regarding the water release at the summit.

Kishida also expressed serious concern over North Korea’s missile and nuclear development programs and the situation in Myanmar following a 2021 coup, the officials said.

At the outset of the gathering, Kishida said Japan hopes to “promote concrete cooperation in various fields” including finance and food security areas.

Li warned against efforts by the United States, Japan and South Korea to contain China, saying it is important to “oppose taking sides and confrontation” to avoid a new Cold War and to ensure that disputes among countries are properly handled.

He added that “the most effective way to clear up misunderstandings” is to “keep differences under control.”

Yoon, meanwhile, called for an early realization of a trilateral summit with Japan and China, which was last held in December 2019, pledging to “closely communicate” with the two neighbors.

The gathering in Jakarta is part of three-day ASEAN-related summit meetings from Tuesday. Leaders from Japan, China and South Korea will also gather for the East Asia Summit on Thursday, where representatives from major powers such as the United States, Russia and India will join.